1. 278,001 acres: Billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks have purchased large ranches that occupy seven counties in Eastern Montana, as well as large properties in other states.
The two made their money selling their interest in Frac Tech, a Cisco, Texas-based oil field business. The 2011 deal was reportedly worth $3.2 billion to the brothers.
Their best-known purchase was of the historic N Bar Ranch in Fergus County. They also own adjacent properties in Musselshell and Golden Valley counties, as well as in Meagher County near the Smith River, near the Bears Paw Mountains in Blaine County, southeast of Jordan in Garfield County, and in Bighorn County east of Hardin near the Bighorn River. All of the purchases were made in the past two years.
2. 248,023 acres: The 71 Ranch LP is co-owned by partners Errol Galt and wife, Sharrie Galt, of Martinsdale, along with Wylie Galt, Brock Galt and Jocelyn Galt. The limited partnership oversees the operation of ranches near Martinsdale, Townsend and Ingomar on which hunters can book self-guided hunts.
Errol Galt has served on the Meagher County Commission and as chairman of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission. He is the son of Jack Galt, a ranch manager and cattle buyer who married Louise Replogle Rankin, heiress to Wellington Rankin’s vast Montana land holdings.
Rep. Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale, represents House District 83 in his first term in the Montana Legislature.
3. 190,634 acres: Sunlight Ranch Co., which has properties in Big Horn and Carbon counties and recently sold its Pronghorn Ranch to the Wilks brothers, is owned by Robert Earl Holding, CEO of Utah-based Sinclair Oil Corp., as well as the owner of Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. The Sunlight Ranch Co. also owns property in Park County, Wyo.
Forbes magazine valued Holding’s net worth at $2.6 billion last year, ranking him 170th on its list of 400 richest people in America.
The Land Report, which tracks the top landowners in America, ranks Holding 19th in the nation. Forbes reported that he owns an estimated 400,000 acres in the West.
He started his business career as the owner of a gas station in Green River, Wyo.
4. 168,188 acres: The Coffee-Nefsy limited partnership owns ranch lands in the Miles City area in Custer and Rosebud counties. According to agricultural data, brother and sister Caren Coffee and William E. (Bill) Coffee are co-owners of the Coffee Cattle Co.
The family is descended from Montana rodeo hall of famer C.M. Coffee of Miles City and his wife, Virginia Nefsy, heiress to the founders of Stockman Bank of Montana.
William Coffee is now chairman and CEO of Stockman Bank and Caren is a director of Stockman Financial Corp.
According to the Stockman Bank website, the bank is the fifth-largest in Montana and the largest agricultural lending facility in the state. The bank has 25 facilities across the state and is building a bank on Grand Avenue in Billings. Total assets in 2011 were $2.14 billion.
5. 154,681 acres: Fifth on the list is Turner Enterprises Inc. and Turner Ranch Properties, owned by Ted Turner, founder of Turner Broadcasting Corp. and CNN news. He is also a bison rancher and the money behind Ted’s Montana Grill restaurants.
The 2012 Land Report lists Turner as the second-largest landowner in America. According to a New York Times article, Turner owns about 2 million acres across 12 states. In Montana he owns the Flying D Ranch that stretches from the Gallatin to Madison rivers as well as the Snowcrest Ranch south of Dillon and the Bar None near Maudlow.
Turner long reigned as America’s No. 1 land holder until last year when he was overtaken by friend John Malone, who owns an estimated 2.2 million acres.
Last year, Forbes estimated Turner’s wealth at $2 billion and ranked him 239th on its list of 400 richest people in America.
Other notable Montana landowners include Stanley Kroenke, a billionaire who is married to a Wal-Mart heir. Last year he bought the 124,000-acre Broken O Ranch near Augusta, which had been listed for $132.5 million. He ranks 10th on the list of America’s largest landowners and also owns the Cedar Creek Ranch near Ennis, the PV Ranch near Hysham and the 550,000-acre Q Creek Land and Livestock Co. in Wyoming. Tim Blixseth, former owner of the embattled Yellowstone Club at Big Sky, ranks 51st on the Land Report’s list of top landowners in the United States.